The US Department of Justice has defended President Donald Trump’s travel ban and urged an appeals court to reinstate it in the interests of national security.
A 15-page brief argued it was a “lawful exercise of the president’s authority” and not a ban on Muslims.
The executive order temporarily banned entry from all refugees and visitors from seven mainly Muslim countries.
A hearing has been set for Tuesday on whether to back or reject the ban.
The filing was made to the San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in response to the halting of Mr Trump’s order on Friday by a federal judge in Washington state.
The judge had argued the ban was unconstitutional and harmful to the state’s interests.
As a result, people from the seven countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – with valid visas were able to travel to the US again.
What did the Department of Justice argue?
The brief filed on Monday evening said the Washington court had “erred in entering an injunction barring enforcement of the order”.
“But even if some relief were appropriate, the court’s sweeping nationwide injunction is vastly overbroad,” the Department of Justice added.
The key arguments in the brief are:
- the president is best placed to make decisions about national security
- it is “incorrect” to call it a ban on Muslims because the seven countries were identified for their terror risk
- the executive order is therefore “neutral with respect to religion”
- aliens outside the US have no rights to due process
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Confusion at airports
The executive order issued by President Trump on 25 January fulfilled his campaign promise to tighten restrictions on arrivals to the US.
Its main components were:
- nationals from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen – even those with visas – banned from entering the US;
- a temporary ban on all refugee admissions;
- the reprioritisation of minority religion (interpreted to mean Christian) refugee claims;
- a ban on all Syrian refugees;
- a cap on total annual refugee admissions to the US of 50,000.
It caused confusion at US and foreign airports when it came into force, and was widely condemned, although polls suggest that US public opinion is sharply divided on the policy.